I have had the great pleasure of spending the past two summers as an intern at the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, SD. The Mammoth Site is in the Black Hills and is within an hour or so of other travel destinations such as Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore.
The Mammoth Site is one of my favorite museums, and not just because I worked there for two summers. The site was discovered in 1974 when a land developer wanted to build a housing development. The bulldozer operator came across something that he didn’t recognize, so Dr. Larry Agenbroad was called in to identify the find. Dr. Agenbroad, now the site director, recognized the find as a mammoth bone, and the rest is history.
The site itself is a sinkhole that formed when a cave collapsed and a hot spring filled the hole with water. When this sinkhole was open approximately 26,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, the warm waters kept the grass green around the edges of the sinkhole even in the dead of winter. Unsuspecting creatures trying to get a bite to eat would fall into the sinkhole and be unable to climb out due to the steep, slippery clay walls. The most impressive and abundant of these unsuspecting creatures is the Columbian Mammoth (Mammuthus columbi). At the end of the last field season, 120 tusks had been found, meaning that the remains of at least 60 mammoths are buried in the sediment.
The Mammoth Site is unique, and not just because of the abundance of mammoth fossils. Because the sinkhole is rimmed by a ring of red rock, scientists know where the edges of the sinkhole are and a building was built over it to protect the fragile fossils from exposure to the elements. Visitors can take a guided tour through the bonebed itself, and might even have the opportunity to see scientists excavating. The Mammoth Site holds more than just mammoth fossils: almost 100 species of plants and animals have been uncovered from the site. Each summer interns, Earthwatch, and Road Scholars come to excavate and expand our knowledge of the last Ice Age.
There is more to explore than just the bonebed! Inside the building, there is a museum and a fossil preparation laboratory. Outside, visitors can take classes in Junior and Advanced Paleontology digs and learn to throw the atlatl. To learn more about the Mammoth Site, check out the link below, or visit the museum! Tell them Aly sent you.